A number of charities have warned that the government must immediately stop all bailiff doorstep visits to prevent serious public health risks.
Taking Control, a group campaigning for regulation of the bailiff industry, is urging the government to extend the suspension of bailiff enforcement of rental evictions to include a suspension of visits for debt enforcement.
Phil Andrew, chief executive of StepChange, said: “At a time when coronavirus transmission is out of control, it is unconscionable that bailiffs should continue to be allowed to make in-person visits to people’s homes.
“The government’s move to stop bailiffs enforcing evictions was an appropriate response in the midst of this public health crisis. Bailiffs visiting people’s homes to collect debts also carries significant risk and significant risks should be suspended during the current lockdown.”
Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “As things stand, a voluntary measure is all that is in place to stop bailiffs entering properties during this latest lockdown – when we are in the midst of a heath crisis this is not acceptable. As was the case back in March last year, the government needs to go further by suspending bailiff visits completely. A ban on bailiff visits is needed urgently to protect both bailiffs and people in debt.”
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Assocation, said: “We recognise this is an incredibly difficult time for families and individuals struggling with debt and the health and well-being of customers and staff alike is our primary concern. With councils facing income losses of £9bn this year and a funding gap of £3bn, it is vital that they are able to recover outstanding debt to pay for essential frontline services that support vulnerable people.
"That is why guidelines to ensure a safe and responsible resumption of some enforcement activity were drawn up in consultation with local authorities and the government, and are regularly reviewed by the Ministry of Justice. All visits are contactless, recorded on body-worn video and agents do not enter people’s homes and must maintain social distancing.
"We do not visit without contacting people in advance. As a result of this pre-assessment, since enforcement visits resumed, in only 5 per cent of cases have visits been suspended because people are either ill with COVID-19 or self-isolating.”
The UK’s enforcement bodies and Just have issued a joint statement on a high court judgment on virtual enforcement – and invited the Ministry of Justice to review current regulations.